Vegetarian foods are not equally healthy, according to research presented today at ESC Congress 2020.
Study highlights the variable nutritional quality of plant foods
“Our study highlights the variable nutritional quality of plant foods,” said author Dr. Matina Kouvari of Harokopio University, Athens, Greece. “This finding was more evident in women. Prior research has shown that women tend to eat more plant-based foods and less animal-based products than men. But our study suggests that this does not guarantee healthier food choices and in turn better health status.”
Unique aspect of this study was that it examined the type of plant-based foods consumed
Most dietary studies define plant-based diets simply as “vegetarian” or “low in meat,” thereby treating all plant foods as equal. The unique aspect of this study was that it examined the type of plant-based foods consumed, in addition to the overall amount. Healthy plant-based products were principally the least processed foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, and tea/coffee. Unhealthy plant-based products consisted of juices, sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes, and any kind of sweets (e.g. chocolate, Greek traditional desserts, etc.).
The study examined the link between the amount and quality of plant-based foods and heart health over a 10-year period.
Study examined link between the amount and quality of plant-based foods and heart health over a 10-year period
In 2001 and 2002, the ATTICA study randomly selected a sample of adults living in Athens who did not have cardiovascular disease or other chronic conditions. The current analysis was conducted in 146 obese participants with normal blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood sugar. Diet was assessed using a questionnaire about usual habits in the previous year. It listed 156 foods and beverages commonly consumed in Greece, with photographs to help define portion sizes.
Within a decade, nearly half of these obese participants had developed high blood pressure, high blood lipids, and high blood sugar — a combination that is particularly risky for heart health.
Men who consumed more plant-based foods were less likely to have this health status
Men who consumed more plant-based foods were less likely to have this decline in health status. A trend was also observed in women, but it did not reach statistical significance.
Quality of plant-based foods were linked with maintaining normal blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood sugar
Regarding the quality of plant-based foods, healthier choices were linked with maintaining normal blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood sugar. Conversely, consuming unhealthy plant-based foods was associated with developing high blood pressure, high blood lipids, and high blood sugar. These relationships were stronger in women compared to men.
Dr. Kouvari said: “Eating less meat is beneficial for heart health, particularly when it is replaced with nutritious plant foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and olive oil.”
She noted that the analysis was conducted in obese individuals and the findings should not be extended to other weight categories.
1. European Society of Cardiology. “Are all vegetarian diets healthy?.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2020. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/08/200827101841.htm>.
Razi Berry is the founder and publisher of the journal Naturopathic Doctor News & Review, which has been in print since 2005, and the premier consumer-faced website of naturopathic medicine, NaturalPath. She is the host of The Love is Medicine Project docuseries, The Natural Cancer Prevention Summit, The Heart Revolution-Heal, Empower and Follow Your Heart, and the popular 10-week Sugar Free Summer program. From a near death experience as a young girl that healed her failing heart, to later overcoming infertility and chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia through naturopathic medicine, Razi has lived the mind/body healing paradigm. Her projects uniquely capture the tradition and philosophy of naturopathy: The healing power of nature, the vital life force in every living thing and the undeniable role that science and mind/body medicine have in creating health and overcoming dis-ease. You can follow Razi on social media: Facebook at Razi Berry, Instagram at Razi.Berry and join the Love is Medicine group to explore the convergence of love and health. Look for more, and listen to more Love is Medicine podcast episodes here.